Air India is planning to hire retired pilots for flying international routes even as a strike by a group of pilots entered the 12th day Saturday.

The airline is operating a fixed share of its flights to the US and Europe with a contingency plan.  At present, Air India is depending on its executive pilots to implement the contingency plan. The executive pilots are part of the AI management and handle ground level operations apart from flying on the basis of their seniority.

Seeking additional pilots, the airline has approached senior pilots, who retired recently from the company, to fly its international flights.

According to a Business Standard report, AI has approached senior pilots who had been flying its Boeing 747-400 fleet on Jeddah and Riyadh routes till recently.  Their contracts were terminated three-four months back, as it felt their services were no longer necessary. However, now the airline management has approached them. an airline official was quoted as saying by the Business Standard.

Cut in International Operations

The Air India management has taken a tough stand against the striking pilots and said that it would cut its international operations further if the pilots continued with their strike.

The airlines is  struggling to maintain the schedules as more than 200 of its pilots have reported sick as part of their agitation against the management's decision to impart training on Boeing 787 Dreamliner to a section of its pilots from the erstwhile Indian Airlines.

Air India is exploiting all options to run its contingency plan. However, the airline has said that it will be forced to further downsize its operations if it cannot make alternate arrangements.

There is a proposal to further curtail international operations if they (pilots) do not come back or if they are joined by the executive class of pilots. If we don't have pilots, how can we fly? said a senior Civil Aviation Ministry official, Zee news reported.

Government to look into the HR parity issues in Air India

Meanwhile, the government has decided to look into the issues related to the alleged disparity in the pay scales and promotions of the AI and IA employees and has called a meeting of the recognized unions to discuss the matter.

The government has said that the Aviation Ministry is working on the recommendations of the Dharmadhikari committee which has studied the issue of pay disparity and other HR issues in AI after its merger with IA in 2007. The committee submitted its report in January last.

This would mean that there could be more trouble for the carrier as its recommendations include scrapping of performance-linked incentive (PLI) and cross-utilization of AI and IA pilots in all carriers.

AI pilots are the highest paid pilots in the world. In the first year of implementing the report, we are targeting a saving of Rs 250 crore. This will mean some people take some pain but the cuts for people who are getting way more than industry average will not be more than 10-15%, the Economic Times reported citing sources.

However, the Indian Pilots Guild, the AI union which is spearheading the strike, has remained defiant despite a court order declaring their strike illegal.

There are no signs of a solution in sight and the AI management has made it clear that it will not yield to the demands of the striking pilots.

Air India said that a panel would complete the medical examination of the striking pilots in two-three days and the pilots would be forced to join duty or resign if they were proved faking illness.

Apart from causing hardships to the passengers, the standoff between the pilots and the management has cost the airliner more than Rs 20 billion.

In another development, exposing the glaring irregularities in Air India administration, Aviation Minister Ajit Singh has initiated a probe into how AI awarded a contract to run its call centre to a company that owns rival airline IndiGo.